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Tiffany Montgomery
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Ergo tries to break in from the East Coast

By Tiffany Montgomery
March 17, 2009 1:12 PM

Today, we catch up with Ergo, a young brand trying to break into the industry from the East Coast. I know we often write about the larger, more established global brands, but we think it's important to include up-and-comers as well in our coverage.

Ergo Vice President Pete Dispirito (second on left in above photo), President Rob Sickel (middle), and VP of Sales Damon George (far right) answered the questions for me.

How long has ERGO been in business?

ERGO launched in March 2005 but we believe that we became a truly legit brand in January 2007 when we showed our first line for spring 2008.

How many accounts does Ergo have? What are some of the key accounts?

We have more than 100 accounts with 125 doors including: Brave New World, The Room, Fairman's, WRV, BC Surf and Sport, Liquid and 7th Street. Most of our accounts are on the east coast and we've recently begun pushing into the West Coast. We have chosen to stay out of chain retailers because of our success with smaller specialty shops and hope to continue to gain specialty support instead. However, we will always be looking for the opportunity to collaborate with unique channels of distribution whether online or a specialty retailer with a street wear vibe. But at the end of the day we are a core skate and surf brand and will stick to our roots.

What are Ergo's annual revenues?

Under a million.

What categories/genders does Ergo have?

We offer a full range of men's apparel including denim, board shorts, walk shorts, fleece, light jackets, custom tees and accessories. We also offer a printable juniors' line.

Does it help or hurt your business to be from the East Coast?

We feel that we can add more dimension to our brand and to what we stand for because we are not fully influenced by and immersed in the southern California scene. In this industry, everything works its way over from California, which actually puts us in a cool position to create our own scene. It's also cool to give our East Coast accounts the support and face time that they aren't used to from bigger West Coast brands.

In early 2007, we began our West Coast push and stationed our main warehouse in Costa Mesa. Our VP of sales, Damon George, and our Director of Production, Ron Yoshida, are based there along with our sales team and designers. Our roots are on the East Coast but with all of the technology available to us we are able to handle almost everything we need to from any location. Being bi-coastal with design, production, sales and some marketing will allow us to execute our plan to make ERGO relevant to both coasts and all points in between.

What are the differences at retail between the East and West coasts?

Because most trends in the action sports industry begin or are introduced from the West Coast, retailers on the West Coast are expecting the next new, exciting thing more frequently. The shift to the East Coast takes time which allows for some longevity on styles or trends. The West Coast retailers are also used to far more attention than the East Coast retailers since the majority of surf and skate brands are located there. A brand of any size needs to provide attention and good customer service to those West Coast retailers to get any love.

It's very dog-eat-dog and a young brand like ERGO has to be very on-point, quick and ready to do battle in a very competitive West Coast arena. ERGO has a leg up on many newer brands because we get some really solid support on the east coast because of our roots here and the attention we give to our East Coast retailers. Now we are focusing on using that same formula to build long-lasting, strong relationships with our West Coast accounts.

How is ERGO being impacted by the economy?

It effects our brand simply because less money is exchanging hands. Sales are smaller and consumers are thinking harder about the purchases they are making. Retailers are also thinking about how to better attract their consumers with new brands and the right mix of products. Most retailers will continue to support the status quo major brands, but many see the need to diversify and ERGO provides them the opportunity to create a unique mix of product with a more selective distribution model.

We recognize that the economy is impacting everyone, including ERGO; however we are also able to see this time as an opportunity for success and we're confident we'll continue to thrive. 

Is the company self-financed or does it have financial partners?

ERGO is self-financed. 

What are the biggest challenges to starting a new brand?

One of the biggest challenges is creating a legit vibe or unique spark that our community of skaters and surfers will connect with. If people are "feeling it" then there are no limits to what we can do with our little brand. Also getting that initial foot in the retailer's door and proving to them that we can attract their customer with our brand's vibe and gear. Another challenge is finding factories that are willing to work with smaller minimums but still deliver on time. Also staying true to who we are and keeping our distribution clean. 

Are you finding retailers receptive to trying ERGO in the current climate?

Definitely on the East Coast because ERGO is everywhere - people can't get away from it and are stoked on it! We went almost a year on the East Coast where some retailers would not give us the time of day. Many assumed that we were just another fly-by-night company that made a few tees at the local screen printer. However, once we got a chance, most retailers ended up being surprised by our wide range of products and the good quality of our garments. We are going through the same thing right now on the West Coast. But with our sales management based out of Southern California now, ERGO is receiving the opportunity to get in front of the right retailers on the West Coast. Though the economic climate is tough, we are still looking at opportunity and opening doors like Overload, Island Surf, O.B. Surf Shop and others in the San Diego region.

We are continuing to make the right contacts and get appointments in Orange County, Los Angeles, Central and Northern California, which are the main regions we are focusing on in the west right now.

How are your spring orders going? Are stores prebooking for fall?

(We) focus on denim, tees, hoodies, sweaters, board shorts and a few accessories. With a more narrowed product offering, our inventory is leaner and sets ERGO up to sell through all or most of what we have in stock. If everything stays on track we will sell out of our spring collection. Pre-booking for fall for all brands seems to be slower than expected, however because our fall collection is so defined, we will be in good shape if it continues to sell through as well as our previous collections.


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